The Waiting Game: Supreme Court’s Decision on the Lawfulness of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program
As May 2020 comes to an end, many eagerly await a Supreme Court decision that could affect the futures of thousands of DACA recipients and shape immigration policy as we know it. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is the program that is currently under scrutiny; in particular the Supreme Court will be deciding on the following two issues: (1) “Whether or not the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA can be reviewed by the courts at all?” and (2) “Whether or not the Trump administration’s termination of DACA was lawful?” This program was first instituted under the Obama Administration as an executive action to do the following for qualified Dreamers who completed the process of a first-time or renewal application: (1) protection from deportation for a time period, and (2) work authorization for a set period of time.
During the Obama Administration, the DREAM Act of 2010 (H.R. 6497) was proposed and passed in the House but did not pass the Senate. The purpose, like its other variations, was intended to aid undocumented individuals by providing them a way to eventually reach legal status, because they were brought to the United States when they were children and have to live with a continued sense of uncertainty that attaches to being undocumented. In its stead, the Obama Administration designed a temporary solution, which came to be known as DACA, in which an individual could qualify by meeting a series of requirements (i.e. arriving in the United States before they turned sixteen years old).
This policy gave a lot of individuals hope, but everything changed with the arrival of the Trump Administration. The Trump Administration’s policies quickly took on an anti-immigration rhetoric, and his Administration rescinded the policy on the basis that it was illegal. Thereafter, lawsuits followed with Department of Homeland Security, et al., v. Regents of the University of California, et al. reaching the Supreme Court level.
Regarding the two issues laid out above, there are many ways the decision could go, but the one that would have the worst effect on DACA recipients would be the court siding on the Trump Administration’s side in saying that “DACA was an unconstitutional use of presidential power to begin with.” This could have a devastating impact on DACA recipients especially at a time when they find themselves in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic alongside the rest of the world.
For example, ABC News quotes a college student saying “As a DACA recipient, and everything going on with COVID-19 and as well with the Supreme Court ruling coming at any time — It’s been very stressful.” On top of college, she works with authorization under DACA, but COVID-19 has added other stressors as she finds herself as the only provider at home. Ending DACA at a time like this would end up being very challenging and harmful for individuals like these who are trying to stay afloat during this pandemic.
Nevertheless, as this country struggles to recover from this pandemic, the most interesting development has happened to this Supreme Court case showing how vital Dreamers and immigrants have been to making this country function smoothly despite the havoc wreaked by the virus. A CNN report discusses how: “A letter sent to the Supreme Court states approximately 27,000 Dreamers are health care workers — including 200 medical students, physician assistants, and doctors — some of whom are now on the front lines in hospitals across the country.” The Supreme Court agreed to take this brief into consideration, and it makes one wonder whether the timing of the decision during a pandemic and the supplemental brief will have any impact at all?
Despite the positive contributions of these and other essential individuals, there have been a lot of issues that have also surfaced reflecting further difficulties that Dreamers are enduring. An example of this is federal funding under CARES Act. The pandemic has had even more disastrous effects on particular communities, and though the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 was passed with a part of it designed to provide aid and federal dollars to help students, and yet the benefits are not available to everyone. DACA students could not qualify to receive money under this Act, and it was one of the reasons the Democrats reached out to Secretary DeVos to change the language but to no avail. The House has brought another bill to the forefront, the Heroes Act, which proposes many changes; one aspect of which directly seeks to overturn “Secretary DeVos’s decision to exclude DACA students from the emergency aid.”
This is a hopeful change, but the culmination of issues including the Supreme Court decision yet to be released, the uncertainty of COVID-19 on employment, health, and education, and a delay in passing the House bill paints a bleak picture.
Yet, at the end of the day, it is as Antonio Alarcon described it on CNN: “We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will see the humanity of our stories and see the humanity of our families, because at the end of the day, this is a nation of immigrants.”
In February 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that grants green cards and U.S. citizenship, revised its mission statement by striking its characterization of the United States as a “nation of immigrants.” The phrase dates back to the 1800s and was popularized by President John F. Kennedy, who sought to remind Americans of the monumental contributions that immigrants have made to America. The removal of this iconic language is consistent with the President Trump’s “America first” agenda, including efforts to limit immigration by proposing to end or alter the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, ban immigration from several majority-Muslim countries, and build a wall along the Mexican border. This anti-immigration attitude has also led to attempts to curtail the family visa program, which allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor certain family members applying for lawful permanent residency in the United States.
President Trump recently made immigration policy a priority with congressional leaders at Camp David, emphasizing his desire to end the “horrible system” of family sponsored visas, which he refers to as “chain migration.” Now, in exchange for softening their proposal to deport DACA recipients, President Trump and the Republicans are targeting the lower priority F3 and F4 category family visas, arguing that they threaten national security. In fact, President Trump blamed chain migration, also known as “family reunification,” for the terrorist attack on New York City in December 2017. The perpetrator of that attack entered on an F43 visa, the lowest priority family visa category reserved for children of parents who are sponsored by a direct relative who is a U.S. citizen. While the U.S. issues an unlimited number of visas to close relatives of U.S. citizens, the number of visas allotted for extended family, or “chain migrants,” is capped at 226,000 per year.
The political rhetoric surrounding chain migration has stoked fears about national security and who is entering the United States through family sponsored visas. But historically, the concept of chain migration was actually simpler and less nefarious than it has recently become. The term “chain migration” was coined as a politically neutral term in the 1960s and stands for the proposition that people are more likely to move to where their families live. Although opponents of family sponsored immigration often use “chain migrant” to denote any immigrant relative of a green card holder or U.S. citizen, the modern technical usage refers to extended relations and not immediate family.
Interestingly, conservatives originally supported family sponsored immigration through the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. The Act replaced the nationality quota system, which many viewed as overtly racist, with the family reunification program. Around 1960, immigration from Europe began to decline as the continent became more prosperous. Conservatives hoped that the new program would encourage European immigrants to bring their families to the United States. Today, only about eleven percent of immigrants are European, with forty-four percent coming from Eastern Europe, including First Lady Melania Trump and her parents. Meanwhile, the overall majority comes from Asia and Latin America.
While concerns about protecting national security are real, the visa category is not as important as the screening process itself. The screening process for family sponsored visa applicants is extensive. Applicants must submit to background checks and be evaluated on the likelihood that they will become an economic liability to the state. In addition, immigrants must have a financially stable relative vouching for them, with a household income of at least 125% of the poverty line including the visa applicant. Finally, because of nationality caps and visa backlogs, it can take many years to bring extended relatives to the United States. This limits the potential to build chains of immigrants, especially from countries like Mexico that have many more qualified applicants than distributable visas.
Although no safeguard is perfect, the potential for chain migration to overwhelm the U.S. is more limited than the Administration’s rhetoric would suggest. Unfortunately, this raises the question whether the fierce opposition to immigrant families is truly about security, or whether a fear of cultural and ethnic change is prompting the effort to end the family reunification program.
As of 2014, Hispanics and Asians are the fastest growing groups in the nation for two separate reasons. Hispanics have a higher fertility rate once they arrive in the United States, while Asian immigrants arrive in the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, the percentage of white Americans is declining. All of this suggests that immigration is making America more diverse and less familiar to white Americans, who make up eighty-one percent of the 115th Congress but just sixty-two percent of the U.S. population. In the House of Representatives, Democrats have eighty-three minority members while the Republicans have only twelve, despite holding forty-five more seats as of January 2018.
It is unclear how the Democrats will handle Republicans’ demands for ending the F3 and F4 family sponsored visa programs. Eliminating those visas may be the price of protecting the 800,000 individuals enrolled in DACA. However, Republicans have also run into trouble with this negotiation tactic. As recently as April 25, 2018, a federal judge in the D.C. Circuit decided that the DACA program must remain intact unless the Department of Homeland Security can explain why DACA is “unlawful” within ninety days. If the courts uphold DACA then its effectiveness as a bargaining chip against the family sponsored visa program is greatly diminished.
As an alternative to chain migration visas, President Trump has proposed both cutting immigration overall by forty-four percent over the next fifty years, and shifting to a merit-based immigration system. Republicans have also introduced bills to limit family sponsored immigration and increase the number of merit-based employment visas. Democrats are unlikely to accede to cutting immigration so drastically, and shifting to a merit-based system could imply breaking up families. However, the merit-based system has been successful in Canada, where emphasis on immigrant contributions has popularized immigration as a whole. In fact, Canadians feel significantly more positive about immigration than do many Americans. Canada proportionally accepts about three times more immigrants than the United States, but saves about two-thirds of the slots for merit-based applicants. This may have economic advantages, but it raises humanitarian concerns. On the other hand, if the alternative is slashing immigration across the board, then it might be a necessary compromise. Switching to a merit-heavy system, however, may signal an end to the democratic values of an America that once prided itself, at least superficially, on welcoming the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.